Boats, Oars, and Water… Oh My! Learning the basics of rowing with Olympian Olivia Coffey

Local News

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (WETM) – After representing Team U.S.A in Tokyo for the Olympic Games, Watkins Glen native Olivia Coffey is back in the Southern Tier. The first time Olympian called her time in Tokyo memorable.

She was a member of the Women’s Eight Rowing Team and placed fourth in the final race. While disappointed to come home without a medal, she is still proud to have represented her country and hometown.

“If I had to do it again I’d win the race,” Coffey said with a laugh. If had to pick my favorite part, it would just be making the team because I’ve worked so hard to get there.”

Coffey has trained for this moment for the past 10 years, competing in high school, at the collegiate level at Harvard, and internationally while pursuing her MBA at Cambridge. An alternate in the 2016 Rio Games, Coffey was grateful for the opportunity to compete.

While the stakes were higher at this race, it felt pretty normal to Coffey because there were no fans. The inlet remained quiet and peaceful, just the sound of coxswains guiding their teams.

“You knew it was a big deal when we saw the camera situation. There was one under the bridge. There were drones and a helicopter so you knew it was a big deal, but honestly, it just felt like a regular regatta because nobody was there,” Coffey remarked.

After leaving the area for high school and college, Coffey returned to Watkins Glen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, training and practicing on the Seneca Lake inlet. The pandemic setback the team’s practicing in Princeton, N.J. because the team was unable to compete together before the Olympics.

“Relative to other countries, the U.S. was in a really bad position in the summer in the fall. We weren’t really training together in team boats until December,” Coffey added.

As an athlete for her entire life, being part of Team U.S.A. was a lifelong dream. She grew up playing basketball and hockey, but rowing was in her DNA. Her dad, Calvin, was an Olympic Silver Medalist in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games in the Men’s Rowing Pair. Competition and the Olympic legacy run deep in her family.

“When you walk around people don’t know what sport you do they just know that you are Team USA. It’s nice to ride elevators with athletes that you see on television and they say ‘Hey, How’s it going? and I’m like, ‘I don’t know, Caleb Dressel how are you doing,” Coffey continued.

Her future rowing career hangs in the balance. Coffey says her time in the water may be through, even though the Paris 2024 Games are not far away.

“I’ve told a few people if I never took another stroke I’d be totally fine. Paris is only three years away. I’ll stay in good shape, but you never know,” Coffey concluded.

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